It’s no secret that segments of the United States and those around the world all suffer from obesity in some shape or form, but low-income communities and those with limited access to health and nutritious food have exhibited heightened levels. This is often due to a variety of factors, including a lack of resources.

At Socially Determined, it’s our job to investigate the commonalities between food insecurity and health, which is why we’ve broken down some important facts for you here.

Food Insecurity & Obesity: What Are the Connections Between the Two?

First, it’s important to understand the connections between food insecurity and obesity. Recent studies illustrate a clear connection between food insecurity and health problems like obesity, diabetes, and other ailments. Studies have also found that many adults living below the poverty line were likely to have an above-average body mass index (BMI), greater than those living above the poverty line or where healthier food options are more accessible. Additionally, there’s been research presented that obesity is also more pervasive among pregnant women living in a food-insecure household both before and after pregnancy.

In terms of children and adolescents, although there isn’t as much research available, there does seem to be a connection between food insecurity and health concerns. For example, a study released in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that children experiencing an inadequate diet and nutrition during infancy and adolescence were approximately 22% more likely to deal with obesity issues when they get older.

Food Insecurity & Obesity: Why Does it Seem to Go Hand-in-Hand?

1. Limited Resources to Healthy Food in Low-Income Neighborhoods

You might have recognized a common theme here – those living in households without access to nutritious food have a greater chance of being obese or developing other health problems. There’s a socioeconomic reason for this, and it starts with low-income neighborhoods traditionally lacking the food resources that the more affluent ones do. Residents in low-income neighborhoods have difficulty obtaining fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and other healthy foods due to affordability, accessibility and more.

2. Limited Access to Grocery Stores & Healthy Food Markets

Another big issue is access to transportation. Not everyone drives a car, and some rely on public transportation or other means to get about. Unfortunately, this can be a costly and limited way to travel. It also makes buying groceries much more difficult when someone needs to haul around their grocery bags on public transit systems like trains or buses.

3. Easy Access to Fast-Food Restaurants & Other Unhealthy Eating Options

Another ever-present factor in low-income communities throughout the country is the over saturation of fast-food restaurants. Fast-food restaurants are easily accessible and provide cheap, unhealthy food. This can result in higher rates of obesity for those who live in such communities due to a diet that lacks nutrients and is very high in calories.

4. Overeating & Other Common Eating Issues that Lead to Obesity

There is also a common cycle among food insecure populations of being deprived of food, then overeating when they have the chance to eat. This type of food intake can cause negative effects in the body that lead to eating disorders and other unhealthy behaviors.

Other connections between food insecurity and health include:

  • High Anxiety, Stress, & Depression: It’s no secret that sometimes when we’re stressed, we tend to turn to food as a comfort. Unfortunately, this is a bad habit, especially in lower-income neighborhoods that lack access to healthy foods. There have been many studies demonstrating the links between obesity and mental healthproblems.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: Communities that have fewer opportunities for physical activity are found to have more links and risk factors for obesity. This is because in low-income neighborhoods, there are fewer recreational facilities and green spaces, making it tough to exercise if one wants to. Also, issues such as crime, traffic, and other safety concerns play a large role in the lack of physical activity in low-income neighborhoods.
  • More Exposure to Unhealthy Products: Unfortunately, at home or in school, those living in low-income neighborhoods are exposed much more to marketing and advertising for unhealthy food products. In some cases, this could mean the vending machines at school or even the advertisements in the school itself. Television is also another large factor, as most children’s shows have ads featuring sugary, unhealthy foods and snacks. This messaging can create a strong influence on the diet of many.
  • Reduced Access to Quality Healthcare: In some low-income neighborhoods, access to quality healthcare can be a serious problem. Perhaps there’s only one health clinic, or in more rural neighborhoods, hospitals and health facilities are miles away. The Affordable Care Act certainly improved insurance coverage for many Americans, but it didn’t solve all the healthcare problems in the country. Many still lack basic health coverage, even more so in states that don’t subscribe to Medicaid. This means that these people also receive less health screening and food assistance, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat chronic problems like obesity, diabetes, and other serious health issues.

Contact Socially Determined today to learn more about food insecurity and health

Socially Determined is here to answer any questions you may have about food insecurity and health in your community,. We provide actionable insights into how social risk impacts the communities and people you serve and help develop strategies and solutions to overcome these obstacles.

We frequently work with health systems and hospitals, health plans, life sciences companies, and non-profits and foundations to help create community and business impact at scale.

Contact us today online to learn more.

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